PEI Premier Dennis King says he will “work around the clock” to lift the suspension of exports of potatoes from the province to the United States.
The suspension was ordered Monday by the Canadian Food Safety Authority following the discovery of potatoes infected with potato warts in two PEI fields in October.
Federal Agriculture Secretary Marie-Claude Bibeau said Canada issued the suspension to prevent the United States from taking similar measures, which could be harder to reverse.
“It’s been all hands on deck here for weeks, of course, leading to this,” King said.
King said he has been in talks with potato growers, officials, farmers and politicians on both sides of the border since the suspension was announced.
He said other parties in his discussions have been open to hearing how PEI’s potato wart handling plant works and why the province believes it is successfully preventing the spread of the fungus off the island.
“There seems to be, from all sides of the border, a greater emphasis on the success of science, which we believe puts us in a good place,” he said. “But when dealing with international issues like this, time becomes a challenge and a big concern and largely beyond our control, which is very frustrating.”
Potato warts reduce yields and spoil potatoes, making them irreplaceable. It is extremely persistent and can take more than 40 years to disappear completely from the ground.
The fungus is not a threat to human health.
PEI offered to help with inspections
The PEI Department of Agriculture and Land said that before the suspension was announced, the province had offered to improve its potato wart handling protocols, including by hiring 30 new soil inspectors to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
But the CFIA told PEI that the inspectors would be best led under its area of responsibility and that they should be responsible for hiring and paying these inspectors.
King said it was his understanding that the CFIA now employs half as many inspectors as the PEI originally proposed.
“We did not want there to be a freeze on Prince Edward Island where our soil samples were collected, for example. So we have worked with the CFIA to say, ‘If you do not have the horsepower to do this, we will help. you to do it, “he said.
“Things seem to be rolling pretty well in that regard right now, but obviously not fast enough to change this decision, which we feel needs to be changed right away.”
The province also said it had offered to make several other changes, including:
- To take soil out of production if potato warts were detected.
- To start switching to wart-resistant potato varieties.
- To develop a zoning system so that if potato warts are present in a part of the island, only that area is closed for export unlike the whole province.
Premier said the impact is already being felt
The PEI Potato Board has estimated the value of the potatoes now in market limbo at $ 120 million. That’s about 115 million kilos, enough for 50 million five-pound bags.
There are additional contagious effects in other industries, such as truck driving. In high season – from October to May – about 160 trucks full of potatoes from PEI drive to the US every week.
Mike MacDonald, director of the Upper Room Food Bank in Charlottetown, said he was concerned that the economic consequences of the trade suspension would lead to more families visiting the food bank.
“I’m sure it will affect a number of individuals and potentially affect their employment, so we certainly believe it will have an impact on us,” he said.
Inflation has already led to an increase in traffic at the food bank, he said, which sees 10 percent more families a month than what was previously considered historic highs.
King said he already hears from farmers and businesses across the supply chain who have said they have been affected by the suspension.
“I think it’s starting to be felt already. For example, people have been sent home from their jobs at the potato packing warehouses,” he said. “I hate to hear it, especially at this time of year, and we hope it can be resolved quickly.”
On Thursday, Cavendish Farms said it had investigated the processing of additional potatoes at two of its processing plants at the request of industry stakeholders so that they could be exported, but that the capacity of all the plants had already been contracted.
Management plan in place
Potato warts, caused by a fungus, are considered a serious threat in the United States. The fungus spoils potatoes and reduces yields, but it is not a threat to human health.
Included in King’s call have been Rodger Cuzner, Canada’s Consul General in Boston, and Lyra Carr, the US Consul General.
King said he shared the details of the province’s potato safety management plan with those developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the first discovery of potato warts on PEI in 2000.
He even said he invited some of PEI’s US partners to come to the island and see PEI’s management plan first hand.
“We think that when people may question the wartime situation on Prince Edward Island, when they first realize what we do and how we do it, and how consistently we do it, it will give a lot of peace of mind. the market, “he said. .
King said in a press release on Wednesday that the province has also established a “situation table” to address the issue, which includes senior officials, representatives of the potato board and former longtime MP Wayne Easter.
Bibeau has said bringing this issue to a solution is a top priority for the federal government.
In response to a question in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he raised the issue with US President Joe Biden at a meeting in Washington, DC last week, adding that there is no scientific basis for the suspension.